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Culture

23 – The Forest in Nivernais – Mistletoe harvesting

14 March 2019

The twenty-third postcard of the series “The Forest in Nivernais” depicts a woman harvesting mistletoe in the forest of Bertranges. Mistletoe is a hemiparasite clorofilliana plant growing on trees and shrubs.

The twenty-third postcard of the series “The Forest in Nivernais” depicts a woman harvesting mistletoe in the forest of Bertranges. Mistletoe is a hemiparasite clorofilliana plant growing on trees and shrubs.

2000 years ago, Pliny the Elder mentioned the admiration of Gauls for mistletoe and the vertues they attributed to this plant (Naturalis Historia, XVI): “The Druids held nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree that bears it, supposing always that tree to be the robur. Of itself the robur is selected by them to form whole groves […]. In fact, it is the notion with them that everything that grows on it has been sent immediately from heaven, and that the mistletoe upon it is a proof that the tree has been selected by God himself as an object of his especial favour. […] and they call her by a name which signifies, in their language, the all-healing. […] It is the belief with them that the mistletoe, taken in drink, will impart fecundity to all animals that are barren, and that it is an antidote for all poisons.” In the Antiquity, mistletoe was used against high blood pressure for example. Today, it is notably used against inflammatory joint diseases. However, mistletoe berries are toxic.

Achille Millien evokes in his verses of poetry the importance of mistletoe in the Nivernais’ popular beliefs at the end of the 19th century: “Au long’ du bois, va, jeune fille, / Cueillir le gui porte-bonheur ! / Jadis, tranché par la famille, / Sur le lin pur, avec honneur / Il tombait, et la druidesse / L’offrait au peuple recueilli… / De même apporte-nous le gui / Comme un présage de liesse !

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